Holidays and Writing by Linda O. Johnston

Dec. 25 Calendar Happy Day After Christmas, everyone!  

Yes, major holidays of this year are now behind us.  The next will be New Year’s Day, the beginning of 2019.  And how are writers handling this season? 

CalendarEnjoyably, I hope.  That’s true for me, at least.  I’ve been having fun with planned events and meals with family and even one surprise when a wonderful family member dropped in unexpectedly for a day.  I even had to break away when I was writing this to make a reservation for a bunch of us to attend a special movie together–which will take up some more time. 

Of course all of that, as delightful as it is, had its effects on writing.  I am working on something with a deadline that I still can’t discuss, but that doesn’t mean I can take the holiday season off.  I just get in what writing I can when I can.

 That’s probably true of all of you who are writers, and even some of you who aren’t.  If you have a full time job, whether or not you’re a writer, too, you probably know in advance which days you’ll have off, but those can also be taken up with family adventures–and/or shopping. 

Holidays

So what do you do?  How do you handle the holidays and whatever work you may be doing?  I’ve found that if I attempt to plan much in advance, I still have to remain flexible –such has that wonderful visit from a family member, as well as one afternoon taken up with accompanying family to a delightful rendition of The Nutcracker Suite ballet…and that upcoming movie.

 I’m considering appropriate New Year’s resolutions, but the best I can come up with so far is, yes, stay flexible and keep busy, as appropriate. 

I hope you enjoy what’s left of this year–and have a wonderful 2019!

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AFTER THE RAIN…. by Rosemary Lord

UmbrellaAfter the rain cometh the fair weather, quoth Aesop –  

        …… he of the many pearls of wisdom.

            I was thinking about this recently, having spent a lot of time in inclement climates. After years of growing up in rainy England, I made a new life in Los Angeles where it was claimed, “It never rains in Southern California….”  Hmmm.

            Over the Thanksgiving holiday I was with my family in England. I find myself working long hours, seven days a week in Hollywood, so my only break from this is to fly far, far away from it all.

            Of course it rained, and it was dark by 5 pm. But it was cozy, and the Christmas lights and busy shops and crowded London streets were cheerful. For a while. I’m just not used to being so cold anymore.

            Umbrella over SunMy siblings and I spent a few days in southern Greece, where the Mediterranean sunshine was very welcome. It was on the cool side, but the feel of even the winter sun on our faces was such a tonic.  However, later on, after the sun dipped down setting into the reddening sky over the Aegean Sea, the thunder rolled in and lightening crackled and cracked. The heavens opened up and rain lashed out, whipping across the beaches and coastal village throughout the night. It was spectacular to watch – and rather scary to listen to, as I lay in bed, unable to sleep because it was so loud. But it was dramatic and exciting.

            In the morning, a weaker November sun began the task of drying up the pavements and puddles. These spectacular night storms that vanished at dawn continued for several days.

            When we drove back to Athens for our return flight to Gatwick, we stopped en route for lunch in Ancient Corinth. The winter sun had warmed considerably as we sat on the terrace of a small taverna, enjoying a simple Greek salad and souvlaki, at the foot of the Temple of Apollo. Rain seemed a distant memory.

           Lady with Umbrella We arrived back in England in the dark. It was freezing cold. Thirty degrees. I had forgotten the misery of the bitingly cold, damp, weather of my early years.

            The rain and the cold continued when we took a day-trip down to Hastings in Sussex. With the drip, drip of rain somehow getting inside my collar, wet hair plastered to my head and the wind lashing around my icy, mauve-with-cold face, we braced ourselves for a walk along the pebbled beach where many Foyle’s War episodes had been filmed, then hurried into the warmth a local café for fish and chips and hot cuppa (cup of tea). Bliss.

            I don’t remember England being this cold – or wet. My energy seemed focused on trying to keep warm and dry. My family teased me about being ‘soft’ and spoiled by the artificial life in Hollywood, where Christmas day is usually sunny. It was the warmth of having my family around me that made it so special. We chatter continuously and laugh a lot. But I’m not sure I would want to get used to the endless gray skies and rain again.  

And so I came back home to sunny California.

            It certainly was warmer in Hollywood the first couple of days; the sky was blue with just a few wispy clouds. Hallelujah! Then it started. A pitter-patter on my windows. Oh no – not again! For the following three days, the rain bucketed down and skies remained dark.

            But then it stopped. The next day it was blue skies and sunshine and I got my smile back.

            I realized that it wasn’t just the rain and overcast skies that had been getting to me. It was that time of year. Many of us silently panic that the year is rolling to a close and we have not finished what we promised ourselves we would do. Uncompleted To Do lists, abandoned projects, all those holiday gifts and cards to buy and taxes to start thinking about. Writers have unfinished stories and articles to write. I certainly do. And what about that extra weight we were going to lose?  But what’s the point of dieting now, at the eleventh hour, with all the holiday parties and meals with friends and family almost upon us. What’s the point, with all the chocolate appearing everywhere we look? No point at all. (She says, savoring another favorite Quality Street chocolate: a purple wrapper this time.)

            So we resolve to switch to healthy salads and fruit plates in the New Year. This time I mean it! Except that the winter has only just started and salad weather seems a long way off. We’re about to have the shortest day of the year… January and February can be very cold, wet and gloomy. Lots of rain. Oh dear.

            But there’s another way to look at it. Especially if you’re a writer. Winter’s the best time to shut oneself away and write, with no distractions. You can’t really potter in the garden, should you have one. So you might as well stay inside and write. No matter how gray the sky is, how torrential the rain or how short the days are outside, we are inside, with an extra layer of sweaters on and perhaps a wooly scarf to keep the draughts out, and a clever little heater aimed at our feet, keeping us warm as toast.

And we write – and write. Typing away, as our imagination takes flight. It is the best time to do what makes us feel alive: the best time to write. We shut ourselves away in our own literary world. And with a little discipline and lots of cups of tea or mugs of coffee, we turn out yet another masterpiece with our name on.

Lady Typing 2

            Then one day, we realize that it’s not so cold. A scarf and a layer of sweaters get discarded, the heater gets turned down a notch. When we finally look out of the window again, there is the smattering of blue patches in the sky.  

            He was right. Aesop, that is. After the rain cometh the fair weather – with all the possibilities of the spring season, with summer to follow. And a tumult of new ideas and fresh approaches to our writing.

            Clever lad, Aesop also said that the level of our success is limited only by our imagination. That is something writers have in spades. Imagination. So what are you going to work on to get you through this winter? Where will your imagination take you?

…………………end………………………..

A YEAR IN RETROSPECT by Miko Johnston

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, it won’t come as a surprise to hear how much we at THE WRITERS IN RESIDENCE like, respect and learn from each other. As 2018 draws to a close, I’d like to share with you some highlights from the blog this past year.

Our cycle of posts begins with Madeline, who always opens the discussion of writing with her unique point of view.I nodded in agreement after reading her post on why adjectives and adverbs are okay… “They are what bring the cadence to your ‘voice’, and the musicality to your writing.” I admire the way she paints pictures with words: “…the (plot) cake is mixed and in my mental oven.”

Reading Rosemary’s entries almost feels like I’m reading her diary. Her innermost thoughts on why she writes remind me that the best writing digs below the surface of the subject. “Leading Myself Astray”, on the importance of research, illustrated how she brings historic authenticity to her writing. I especially related to her piece on how endings, even when tragic, can lead to promising new beginnings.

That proved true when a post on naming characters became the last entry from former member Bonnie Schroeder, who decided to leave the blog. However, we welcomed Jill Amadio, whose range and depth of experience has made her a valued addition to the group. Not many of us can begin a sentence with, “Sara Paretsky told me….” I appreciate her insight on the business side of writing, something I tend to overlook.

Speaking of the business side, Linda wrote a thought-provoking post about a subject many of us have, or will, experience as the publishing industry continues to transform. I could relate to the decisions she’s facing with publisher Midnight Ink’s dissolution, a common dilemma for authors.

Gayle’s “What’s in a Name?” confirmed the importance of getting the right name for our characters – it took three tries before my newest one would ‘talk’ to me. I consider Gayle the teacher of the group. Her lessons included how a character’s voice can convey who they are, and how to bring minor characters to life without a lot of exposition. And I still smile when I recall Gayle’s post on Valentine’s Day – part 2 of “How to Open Your Story with a Bang”.

There were several great tips on how to evoke sensory details in Jackie’s post on the subject. Jackie’s work with African children, including mentoring them in writing, exemplifies not only her life’s mission, but our blog’s mission to encourage and support writers. I found her recent post on handing down traditions very meaningful.

I can’t ignore the many excellent guest posts we’ve had. Patricia Smiley’s “The Importance of Setting” would have been an outstanding piece under any circumstance, but it carried special meaning for me. I read it the day before the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks California took place. Whenever these tragic incidents happen I’m horrified and disgusted, but this was different. For many years I lived two blocks from the Borderline Bar, where the shooting occurred.

Sitting 7,500 miles away in Sydney Australia, I watched news footage taken from a sidewalk I’d walked along thousands of times, of a building I’d driven past almost daily for years. I could envision every inch of the route the ambulance would take back to the hospital, the layout of the ER where they’d treat the victims, the waiting room, down to the carpeting, where the victims’ families would be waiting. Having had ‘boots on the ground’ personalized the emotional impact for me. It became a painful reminder of our challenge as writers to incorporate that first-hand realism in our own writing.

I interviewed author Mike McNeff about his background in law enforcement and the authenticity it brings to his writing.  Mike has also pursued courses in the craft of writing and became a certified editor. He generously shares his expertise with other writers, including creative writing students at our local high school.

Hanna Rhys Barnes weighed in with the best pep-talk on writing romance fiction I’ve ever seen, reminding us of how some writers can be disrespectful toward the most popular, best-selling genre of fiction in the English language. As we WINRs have often said, “Writing is writing.”

An excellent post by Paul D. Marks lamented how… “our cultural ties-that-bind are breaking down”, which has made writing more challenging as a new generation seems less aware of the past. I still recall a young writer in my critique group questioning why my child protagonist wandered in the forest for days when she could have used GPS. In 1899. Fortunately, some readers appreciate the past. Sally Carpenter made that point in her “Retro-Cozy” piece, and in “The Story of You”, three memoirists shared their insight and advice with me on the importance of communicating memories of earlier times.

What to do when you lose your publisher or contract became a popular topic (little wonder), on which both Linda and guest blogger Heather Ames reported. And the question of where writers get their ideas has been explored frequently this year. Jackie wrote about it in “Writing A Murder”, Linda in “Inspiration?”, and Madeline in “Stealing and More….”

Did you find one of our posts particularly noteworthy, touching or instructive? Tell us which one. Wondering what the new year has in store for you here at THE WRITERS IN RESIDENCE? Check in with us every Wednesday and find out!

 

 

Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington.

A WRITER’S CHRISTMAS IN CALIFORNIA by Jill Amadio

EnglandWhile the wildfires raged north of Los Angeles and Sacramento, the state capital, and tens of thousands were required to evacuate their threatened homes with little assurance as to when they could return, I longed to be home for Christmas. By home, I mean Cornwall, specifically St. Ives where my dance teacher mother presented pantomimes and my father dispensed medications for the local chemist and played the lead in The Emperor’s New Clothes. The holiday was usually subdued compared to the frantic, joyful goings-on across the pond, with only a few presents, and nothing like the Christmas gift of a handgun a Wisconsin glassware company is giving each employee.

Television

 

Here, the telly has turned into a Christmas monster, hawking gifts, edibles, and anything else to which the word Christmas can be attached. The commercials are relentless and have been so since August. One TV channel has been broadcasting movies for the past three months with the yuletide holiday theme overshadowing Thanksgiving, which I grudgingly celebrate because I love turkey stuffing and gravy.

 

Some Christmas cards one can buy in Southern California are localized with illustrations of Santa Claus sunbathing on the beach attended by bikini-clad maidens wearing little else but white fur-trimmed Santa hats. The idea is to mail such cards to friends and relatives suffering from the cold. I once received a rather rude thank-you note in response that sympathized with my having to celebrate in such an un-Christmas-like climate as Orange County, and asking me not to remind them of my sun and sand in the future.

 

fruitcake

For my December 25th Grand Meal dessert I buy Christmas pudding and brandy-soaked fruit cake at the Indian grocery shop down the road. They sell clotted cream, scones, Marmite, Bisto, and many other British products. I tried what they call a Cornish pasty. Nothing like mother made. But the cream is imported in small glass jars from Devon and is delicious.

 

BoxThere’s a big sales push on by a Nebraska company that ships a very large white foam polystyrene box filled with prime steaks, hamburgers, chops, and roasts packed in dry ice. What does all this have to do with my current job of finishing up my next mystery? Well, these gifts save a lot of time in the kitchen, and the box I received from a friend who decided I was a starving writer is large enough when empty, I realized once I’d transferred the food to the freezer, to hold a small body or bits of one.  The top fits tightly and is leak-resistant, leading to the assumption that any blood will remain inside. The U.S. post office is used to accepting and mailing all sorts of odd-shaped packages and this one passes muster whatever it may contain except for petrol, pot, explosives, and ammunition.

 

Dozens of authors have been writing Christmas mysteries since last spring and one can see the results of their intellectual labors at online bookshops as well as in brick-and-mortar buildings that devote several shelves to the kind of killings the holy holiday can inspire. Aside from the bakery, and dog and cat Noel cozies, some titles are clever, such as How the Finch Stole Christmas by Donna Andrews, and Christmas Stalkings, several stories collected by Charlotte MacLeod.  In fact I counted ten other Christmas Stalkings titles before giving up on Amazon’s lengthy list on its site.  Other holiday titles include Every Vampire’s Christmas Wish by M.L. Guida, and a collection of yuletide thrillers by Edgar Wallace and Arthur Conan Doyle. Lee Child’s A Christmas Scorpion continues as a best-seller. Meanwhile, mistletoe, the three wise men, the guiding star, and reindeer haven’t escaped being borrowed for the holiday and are included in several titles by authors such as P.D. James, Shelley Coriell, Anthony Litton, and Lena Bourne.

 

Christmas cracker

I’m a bit surprised that traditional Christmas crackers haven’t emerged as a themed title because these English table decorations offer so many possibilities for the inclusion of small body parts such as fingernails, eyelashes, or a hank of hair into the cracker’s middle section. I know one can remove the gift already included because as children my brother and I often did so when no one was looking. If we didn’t think it was worth keeping we’d slip it back in and try another cracker.

 

I wish everyone a Happy Holiday and a wonderful New Year.

A Christmas Cozy Review

by Jackie Houchin

Here’s a new cozy mystery, just in time for Christmas. Have you ever been to a “Santa’s Village” complete with a Misses and Mister Claus?  T. C. Wescott’s new book takes you there and makes you want to stay for the festivities, food and fun.

Slay Bells 7

“Slay Bells is a cozy mystery that is indeed “cozy.” Imagine the aromas of cinnamon cookies, tarts, cakes and puddings baking, fireplaces glowing, villagers bundled in furs and mukluks, while powdery snow gently covers the famous hamlet.

Imagine mistletoe (a curious part of the mystery) and holly,  twinkling lanterns (a beautiful ancient tradition there) and carols at the annual Christmas Festival.  This is the setting for T.C. Wescott’s first Christmas Village mystery.

Two ladies feature in this tale. Super sleuth and much beloved is Maribel Claus, wife of the famous mister Claus who is conspicuous by his absence, being busy with his shop workers preparing for the “big night.” Meanwhile Maribel aids the fumbling Sheriff Fell in solving crimes in Christmas Village.

Rose Willoughby is her elderly friend, fellow goody-baker, and sometimes assistant in crime solving (when she can be trusted to keep secrets.)  Rose owns Plum Cottage, a quaint Bed & Breakfast where at present; a traveling troupe of circus performers – magician, juggler, acrobat, fortuneteller, strong man, grumpy manager and assistant – is lodging.

When one of them is murdered in a most peculiar way – with a small silver bell left on his chest – the list of capable suspects is long. Each performer has a special ability that could almost have accomplished the “impossible” act.  But which one? And mostly, how?

Wescott keeps the reader in suspense as first one then another is considered by Maribel and Sheriff Fell. When a second more curious murder occurs (again a bell is left on the body), there are even rumors of a legendary flying monster doing the killing.

While the village struggles to carry on with the festivities, and the performers huddle in fear wondering who will be the next to die, Maribel works to pry out and then trap the killer.

Slay Bells is a delightfully perplexing mystery. It will take a most astute armchair detective to discover HOW the murders are done before the author reveals the very believable solution!

Readers will love the atmosphere and the characters Wescott has created. The humorous superstitions, lovely holiday traditions, and the vague allusions to the famous mister all add to the fun of the story. And so is trying to beat Maribel in finding the “who” and “how.”  Betcha you can’t!

Full Disclosure – I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher for review

 

Loverly!

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Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of seven award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also a sometime potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert.

Way back when, a favored relative we occasionally visited would say, “That’s just loverly,” when she liked something—especially when giving a compliment. She wasn’t using loverly as a stand-in for being lover-like, but as a confounding of the word lovely. At least that’s what my brain took as her meaning—that the object she was referring to was very nice. Pleasing. Her remembered words, and pictures of her in my mind’s eye are what brought me to this post, and my topic—Adjectives and adverbs in writing.[i]

ThinkingHeadtoBookMany far more successful writers than I have shared their opinions, preferences–and given advice regarding the use of adjectives and adverbs in fiction writing. And the current trend, I think, is the fewer the better. Edit them out. My (slightly contrary) thoughts here are about my personal leanings, and are inspired by what I like to read—not a rule from a writer’s perspective. And underlying my thoughts, are topics which I hopefully have mentioned before—(1) The benefits from exposure to as many ideas and information as possible (like I’ve heard here at Writers in Residence) (2) Breaking rules or current writing customs in favor of your writing instincts and “voice.”

The short, sweet, and to the point of this post is—I love adjectives and adverbs. To me, they can enhance, convey feeling, bring connotation, or even add warmth or coldness to an idea you’re trying to express. They are what brings the cadence to your “voice,” and the musicality to your writing. To me, the right adjective or adverb can help a reader sense the scene, heighten sensory perceptions already described, or even quickly picture a whole character. A few examples…

  • His tone was conspiratorial, and slightly excited.
  • But Meldon’s loud voice, surprisingly high and squeaky, brought him back to current day.
  • With him whistling appreciatively to himself in his cruiser-cocoon, in acknowledgement of their hard work and accomplishment…
  • Ben willfully continued to ignore both yesterday morning’s congratulatory thoughts about the Caltrans crew…
  • Still, and quite annoyingly—even so protected from outside forces, when Ben looked down at his lap, he needed to brush away fine granules of yellowish-sand from along the crease of his meticulously pressed right pants leg

For me, Judging when an adjective or adverb will bring depth to a character, the scenery, or to just make a more musical sentence—versus self-indulgent prose-writing, is well worth thinking about. I usually make my judgment call for “keeping,” but if the word is not doing what I want, finding a better adjective/adverb. And if still not working, scratch the whole thing, and try writing a different way.

balancingAct
Another Writing Balancing Act

If there’s actual advice I’d like to offer—it is before cutting out all those evil-adjective and word-adding adverbs (especially the “ly” ones,) think about a couple other concepts dear to my writing heart—voice, and the musicality of your writing. Said another way—true enough, one should watch out for shooting yourself in the foot with tortured over-written prose—but at the same time making sure you are writing prose that makes your heart sing!

Would love to hear your thoughts on the topic…

Happy and loverly writing trails!

 


[i] Merriam Webster online: Adjective…a word belonging to one of the major form classes in any of numerous languages and typically serving as a modifier of a noun to denote a quality of the thing named, to indicate its quantity or extent, or to specify a thing as distinct from something else…  Adverbs are words that usually modify—that is, they limit or restrict the meaning of.  They may also modify adjectives, other adverbs, phrases, or even entire sentences. An adverb answers the question when?, where?, how?, how much?, how long?, or how often?

Kitchen Art and Edible Legacies

by Jackie Houchin

I’m so thankful that both my mom and my dad put pen to paper while they were alive to draw and write out lasting legacies for me to cherish now that they are gone.

Our Thanksgiving Dinner

Mom cooked the whole feast, all the fixings and desserts, until way after she had great-grandchildren. When she was no longer able, I took over the task for a few years before handing it down to my daughter-in law who excels in the kitchen.

IMG_4917Now, the week before Thanksgiving I thumb through the 3×5 cards in Mom’s old plastic recipe box, looking for the Cranberry Salad, the Holiday Mincemeat Cake, and the Chiffon Pumpkin Pie recipes. The writing is faint and blurred; the cards are stained. And my heart gives a twist as I picture Mom taking each one out and assembling the ingredients on the counter.  (This “treasured” box came to me 20 months ago when, at 94, she died.)

Six weeks ago my Dad joined her in Heaven. Now they are giving thanks to God continually, not just on our annual holiday.

In cleaning out my dad’s file drawers I found a stack of napkins about five inches high. I thought they were dust cloths for his crafting projects, until I took them out of the plastic bag. Instead of throwaways, I found ‘priceless’ pieces of art that I will treasure alongside my mom’s recipe box.

IMG_4915Daily for a year or so in 1999, Dad sat at their kitchen table and drew stick figure sketches of Mom in various situations, from housecleaning and cooking, to relaxing with a morning coffee on the patio, working a jigsaw puzzle, gardening,  and packing/traveling to Solvang on their anniversary.  Each filmy paper illustration has her comment in a balloon above her head. I can hear her saying them all! I admit, I cried as I looked at each one in the stack.

I’ll share a few of his sketches here, along with two of her “famous” Thanksgiving recipes.

Mom, baking her Chiffon Pumpkin Pies (Thin crusts; never soggy!)

IMG_4898 (Edited)    IMG_4900 (Edited)

Mom’s pie recipe:

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup canned pumpkin (not pie mix)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 eggs (separated)
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 TBS. plain gelatin
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 2 TBS. granulated sugar
  • 1 baked pie shell

Soak Gelatin in water. Combine brown sugar, pumpkin, milk, egg yolks (lightly beaten), spices and salt.  Cook in top of double boiler until mixture begins to thicken (about 5 minutes)  Add gelatin to hot mixture. Chill until partially congealed. Beat egg whites stiff, but not dry. Beat granulated sugar into egg  whites. Fold into pumpkin mixture.  Pour into baked pie shell. Chill for 1-2 hours or until stiff enough to cut and hold its shape.  Garnish with whipped cream if desired.

Mom’s Cranberry Salad recipe:

  • 1 pound fresh or frozen whole cranberries
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup drained crushed pineapple
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows
  • 1 large package of strawberry Jell-O
  • 1 cup boiling water

Grind (or process) the cranberries roughly. Add sugar. Let set 3 hours.  Add pecans,  pineapple, and marshmallows.  Dissolve Jell-O thoroughly in boiling water. Add to the above mixture and set aside to mold. (When slightly thickened, stir down the marshmallows.)

Gratitude

How glad I am that my parents took time to write out and draw “every day” things.  They may never be published (other than on this blog), but they are as enduring and endearing to me as any literary classic or masterpiece painting.  They are the hearts of my Mom and Dad.

Creativity in any form is a gift from God and destined to bless (or change) someone.  Keep on creating from your heart. You’ll never know who will pick up a piece of “you” and smile (or cry).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving snoopy

“Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good.” Psalm 136.1

#WriteMotivation    !    #Creativity