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Thursday, December 31, 2009


It's official. 2009 is closing out eight hours from now. It's so nice to look back over the year and see my productivity with another book edited, manuscripts edited, several publications, some contest wins and honorable mentions, and plenty of enthusiasm left for the novel I'm about to begin editing in earnest and the new book I'm researching.

My family has had its share of hard times in 2009 with the swine flu paying a visit, and my daughter getting laid off without any notice after three years with the company and an exemplary work record. (She wasn't the only one as the company downsizes to close.) We faced the holidays on a wish and a promise. With the help of many good friends we sailed right through. My daughter used these months to work towards finishing her business degree and only has two classes left, while she researched local businesses and sought employment. We tend to be a productive family as you can tell. Not to be outdone, my granddaughter gave up her allowance and fast food with a smile; although, we found out how addicted we all are to McDonald's fries.

We face the new year full of optimism - house cleaned, Christmas wrapped up and being stored as I write this, and resolutions in hand. On the top of my list is to keep you posted weekly on my progress and the process I'm using to do my rewrite. It occurred to me recently that no matter what blog we routinely follow, what writing publication we pour through monthly, or how many writers you hear speak, there is an everlasting list of questions about the writing and editing processes. We all want to hear how someone has done or is doing it in the hopes that a drop of brilliance will spring from the golden apple and make our jobs easier. So, for those of you who are voyeurs at heart, you will get a blow by blow on what's working and what's not as I tackle my re-write.

May you have a safe New Year's Eve and a productive new year! Mahala

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Hope you all captured some wonderful memories this Christmas. My Santa did okay, I think. Of course, I haven't gotten my credit card bill yet, but I'm hopeful.

Christmas dinner at my house had to wait until the 27th, after sons and family got back from Florida, but that was okay, too. Gave me more time to create one hellacious Smorgasbord. After the traditional wrapping paper and ribbon fight (no snowballs in Mobile), I'm still finding wads of red, green and gold behind and under furniture. I expect to find more as the new year progresses (like the Easter egg hunt where there's at least one egg--hopefully plastic--that I find months later).

I've started the third edit cycle of a story tentatively titled Embedded. It's another multi-genre effort--action/adventure/mystery/woman-in-jeopardy. I guess all those genres equate to "commercial" rather than "literary," but I'm satisfied with that. I'd rather be breathless than in tears.

"Christmas Is a Season 2009" is one of those multi-genre efforts also. It's an anthology for all seasons because the stories are so varied. For example, here's the synopsis from Hobbes House, my short story submission . . .

In Hobbes House, a lonely child meets a scared fox, and a dead father's tragic secret is revealed to his angry daughter. When Merrill Cowper rents her lake house to strangers, she learns that the best Christmas gifts don't always arrived wrapped in pretty paper and tied with a bow. Sometimes, they don't even arrive on Christmas . . . or Boxing Day.

Time to close and go look for some more wadded-up wrapping paper.

Keep on keeping on folks. I'll do the same.

c j

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


It is certain that each of us has a Christmas story to tell. I was fortunate to have one of mine included in the anthology "Christmas is a Season 2009." Published by Excalibur Press, edited by Linda Busby Parker, the book is a compilation of twenty-six submissions--short stories and lovely personal essays that share cherished memories of angst, tears, humor, joy, hope, faith, and love. There are no duplicate themes, and they are timeless.

As we celebrate the gift of the Christ child, I pray that peace and joy abide with you and yours at Christmastime and throughout the new year.

c j

Friday, December 4, 2009

Christmas is a Season 2009

The signings and readings for "Christmas is a Season 2009" are moving right along.

On Nov 29, Liz McCormick, Kathleen Thompson, and Theodore Pitsios appeared at the Leeds, Alabama, Art Council. The gathering, I am told, enjoyed the presentations immensely.

Also, Excalibur editor Linda Busby Parker made an impromptu presentation at a coffee shop in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

On Dec 4, Bettye Forbus of the Dothan Friends of the Library invited a group to speak and coordinated the event at the Dothan, AL, Barnes and Noble. Editor Linda Busby Parker and writers Mahala Church, Dee Jordan, cj petterson, and Ted Pitsios accepted. After a few GPS miscues and some pedal-to-the-metal driving, we made it to Dothan from Mobile--a tad late, but in good shape. Ted's story is so funny, and to hear him read it with all that great emotion, makes it even funnier. Don't know about the others, but I had a good time. One listener enthused that she had enjoyed writing when she was younger and once hoped to study journalism. Listening to the story excerpts reminded her of that forgotten dream. She was encouraged to find a local writing group and write her own personal essay. Sounds almost like an old-fashioned tent meeting, doesn't it? (Reviving interest in writing, attracting then counseling a lost sheep.)

Page and Palette in Fairhope and Barnes and Noble in Mobile are still on the schedule (see my previous post) and now I can announce another:

Saturday, December 19, from 12 to 2 p.m. at "Little Professor" in Homewood, AL.

Well, you keep on keeping on, folks. I will.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Giving Thanks

Each member of the Lyrical Pens has a story in the new Christmas is a Season! 2009 which is edited by Linda Busby-Parker and yours truly as the associate editor. It's a beautiful book filled with an eclectic mix of short stories and personal essays that incorporate the holiday experience. You can purchase it at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon. If you check out our flag ship issue last year on Amazon, you'll see that they are still selling and for premium prices due to the excellent reception to the book. It has been used as a teaching tool at universities and read in book clubs. This year, like last, the authors crisscross the nation, which brings a rich influence to the book and something for all readers. We sincerely hope you enjoy it.

Happy Thanksgiving to each of you. May you be blessed to share the feast with friends and family and eat well.

Writers make a difference one page at a time. Mahala Church

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

As the days dwindle down . . .

Where did 2009 go? I can not {note 2 words :>) for emphasis} believe that we're zooming in on Thanksgiving. My gosh, that means I have only one more payday (!) before Christmas. Oh well. I make a concerted effort to not leave the house for any of the frantic spending on post-Thanksgiving "black Friday" and Saturday sales. I did join my family one year in our MMAV (Mobile Mall Assault Vehicle). After that, I swore off. But I wish good hunting to all you bargain seekers.

I do love this time of year though. Cool days, cooler nights, the crunch of leaves underfoot, and the sight of my fuchsia, pink, and white camelias reaching for their most colorful peak. (The show lasts until January.) This Gulf Coast city doesn't get much in the way of autumnal colors like those of Michigan or Maine or Vermont. When I moved from Detroit to my southern home, I had to switch my color expectations to the hurricane lilies that start popping up in late August, the masses of 10-foot high camelias that bud out in the middle of September, and the berries of heavenly bamboo that turn red in late October. No problem, the relief from the heat and humidity is so appreciated . . . until next February and March when the azaleas and bridal wreath take over, and I get antsy for the chill to leave the air.

I used to have all my Christmas shopping done before Labor Day. This year not so much. I've been distracted by writerly things like creating, editing, workshopping, conferencing, etc. And for all you doubting Thomases, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

I did, however, just receive a beautiful Christmas gift for myself . . . and you. Christmas Is a Season 2009 is now in print, and the Lyrical Pens are contributors! From the press release: "Linda Busby Parker is the publisher of Excalibur Press and editor of the Christmas anthology, which includes twenty-six short stories and personal essays about the Christmas season. Contributors include writers from California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Mississippi, and of course, Alabama. The stories and essays in Christmas is a Season! 2009 are full of surprises—a pagan celebration, a Santa School transformation, a dog gaining heroic status, a teenager receiving the Christmas spirit, despite herself. Great joy, great longings, much laughter, some sadness, and some regrets, the stories in Christmas is a Season! 2009 address all the emotions and the various experiences the season brings."

Check it out on Amazon. And you're personally invited to book signings as some of the authors read excepts from their work:
* December 3, Dothan, AL, Barnes & Noble 5 to 7 p.m.
* December 11, Fairhope, AL, Page & Palette 5 to 7 p.m.
* December 12, Mobile, AL, Barnes & Noble 2 p.m.
Watch for info on another book signing at the Little Professor bookstore in Birmingham, AL, also in early December (more about that when the time/date is confirmed).

Hope to see you at one of these events.

Keep on keeping on folks. I will.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Time is the Great Thief

This summer I put on a bathing suit to take my granddaughter swimming. When I looked in the mirror I was astonished at what a few months had done to my body. First, if you look at my picture, you know I like to eat, but what you don't know is I have a few metal parts and am working on being the next bionic woman. The scar from my hip replacement has healed nicely, but what I hadn't figured on was the cleavage the replacement left. It took about a second last May with a hand mirror to realize that my left and right sides no longer matched, and my bathing suit from the year before was hanging loosely where my derriere had filled it in the year before. So here's the dilemma - do I have the other hip done or figure out some way to fill in the space on the other side? In my aggravation I also noticed that my buttocks, which have never been very large compared to other parts of me, had shifted in a most distinctive way to the top of my thighs and now looked exactly like my mother's the last twenty years or so of her life. I wasn't sure whether to cry or laugh, but being an Erma Bombeck fan, I opted for laughter. My granddaughter came to find out why I was laughing hysterically, and, of course, at ten, she thought I was totally crazy. "But why is that funny?" she kept asking. "Well, just take a look," I giggled. And finally we were both cracking up. The moral of this story is don't wait too long to go swimming between operations or your body parts may shift and leave your bathing suit limp in places.

No seriously, the reason I tell this compelling story {I'm sure you agree} is that life and your buttocks will get away from you if you don't stay on top of it. I'm supposed to be revising my novel, and yet, I've been so busy assisting to edit a new Christmas anthology and editing several mss for others, making holiday gifts, and doing yard work, painting the house, etc. etc. etc. that I've almost stayed away from my novel too long. But as it turned out in this case, I think that's been a truly good thing. As I'm re-reading it now, I'm amazed at how I can see the bulging spots and the gaping holes. I'm amazed at what I wrote in places. Amazed at how well some of the words flowed to the page, amazed at how MANY adjectives I used to try and make a point, and amazed at how many empty spaces I now see. Sometimes, a break is just what we need to spur us onward and develop our creativity. I've spent these few months reading books on writing, which is what Darnell Arnoult, a good Southern author, and my friend, Linda Busby-Parker, also a good Southern author and editor, keep telling me and other writers to do after we finish our masterpiece and before we start to dissect it. And guess what, Darnell and Linda, I think it's working!

A few suggestions on books of craft that I've found especially helpful are:
Writing Fiction: the touchstone for MFA programs around the country and dreadfully boring in some sections, but on how-to-structure basics, can't be beat

Creating Fiction: with insights from a large number of writers that I admire, including Richard Russo, Jane Smiley, John Barth (whose article on incremental perturbations perturbed the h- e- double hockey sticks out of me at first, but now I get it!, Alyce Miller on first person narrative which is what my novel is.

How I write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author: straight forward and simple to understand. While I adore literary style and read it often, I absolutely! absolutely! want to sell my book.

I wonder if I could use one of those baster kits you can buy at the grocery store for turkeys to stuff my hip? Nah! I like my whopsided look. It gives me that eclectic character I've always admired in others.

Never commit to memory what you can find in a book. Albert Einstein

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Time lost

I can't believe it's been a month since I've blogged. My gosh, where was I? Oh yes. SeaScape started the writerly juices flowing, and I was caught up in serious research and editing my novel, of course.

I'm only half-done with yet another edit cycle of "Deadly Star" but it's coming along. So far, Mirabel has survived a plane crash; has a younger man in love with her; thinks she's still in love with her ex-husband; and comes home to find the man who tried to kill her sitting on her living room couch. Now that I've got her all tied up in a web of danger, I've got to intensify the mystery behind it all and get her out -- alive. Piece of cake! (Must be devil's food.)

My goal is to finish the edits before December 15 (a contest deadline) so I write every day, sometimes for an hour, sometimes for three or four. It's all about being focused. But I have two other W-I-Ps and sometimes they call my name. I have to sneak in a few lines on one of them before I can get my "Deadly Star" voices back.

The party season is fast approaching, and the Lyrical Pens are putting the finishing touches on our own harvest-time get-together. We're starting early in November, and I'm hoping for enough momentum to carry me into the new year. Love it!

Keep on keeping on, folks. I will.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Home again

. . . home again, jiggedy jog. The SeaScape Writers Retreat in Connecticut last weekend was a super experience for me. Three published writers (S.W. Hubbard, Roberta Isleib, and Hallie Ephron) acting as facilitators and eighteen writers whose expertise ranged from novice to published met on the shores of Long Island Sound for some very intensive critiquing and story analyses. Of the six women in my group (it was, after all, an off-shoot of "Sisters" in Crime), I read no duplicate story ideas. Each was amazingly unique.

The weather was perfect which was kind of sad because we didn't spend a lot of time outside. The day started at 9 a.m. and wound down with a glass of wine at 9 p.m. It was a weekend jam-packed full of workshops, critiques, discussions, and re-writes. Sessions on openings, action scenes, character development, plots, building suspense. It was grrrrr-eat!

Another plus was that each of us had opportunities to meet one-on-one with the authors for some personal feedback.

Do I sound like I'm gushing? I guess I am. I had hoped for at least one atta-girl and I got a couple. I came back a very happy camper. Now it's back to the keyboard so I can incorporate some of those insightful comments.

If anyone is interested in next year's event, the website to follow is

Keep on keeping on, folks. I will


Monday, September 14, 2009

fear of flying ditto

Two days from now, I fly to Hartford, CT, where I will pick up a car and motor the fifty-plus miles down to Long Island Sound. The Seascape Writers Retreat doesn't start until Friday, so I'll have a whole day to re-gather the wits I'm sure to leave on the plane. I'm not exactly a white-knuckle flyer (Tums controls the nausea), but it has been seven years since I've flown, and I know things have changed . . . a lot.

I will wear clogs so I don't have to unlace my favorite sneakers. I will pay attention to the instructions and carry only travel-sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner, make-up, et. al. and put as many of those little suckers into a clear plastic, quart-sized baggie as it will "comfortably hold." I am allowed ONE clear plastic baggie. One. I think my biggest fear is that the wires and plugs needed to keep my electronics charged--telephone and computer, with keyboard and mouse because I absolutely can't type on a laptop--may get me nominated for an "open the bag lady" examination (comma purposely omitted).

I will keep a notebook and pen handy during my hours-long lay-over in Atlanta, looking to thumbnail sketch a few dozen unique characters that I can involve in my next novel. Actually I'm working up an idea for a new mystery that's exciting me to death, and I can't wait to get at it. 'Course after the burst of energy that produces the first 20 or so pages, I'll put it down and continue on with the other two novels I have in process. The new one will be there waiting for me when I'm able to get back to it, probably after the first of the year. But I just HAVE to see those initial "jump-in feet-first" words in double-spaced lines of Times New Roman, 12 point font, an inch in from each side of the page. They reassure me that I have not succumbed to writer's block.

I wish you all good writing.

Keep on keeping on, folks. I will.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fear of Flying

No, I'm not talking about Erica Jong's novel. I mean I am afraid to fly in airplanes. I have been known to drive 1500 miles practically nonstop to avoid flying. Yet, tomorrow I'm boarding a plane and heading to New England. Yes, this aerophobe is planning to fly on 9/11. To Logan airport in Boston, no less. And worst of all, my flight leaves at 6:40 AM. Way too early to drink myself into an oblivious walking coma.

So, how is this related to writing (besides the fact that my trip will culminate in the Seascape Novel Retreat a week from tomorrow)? Well, here is where JK Rowling comes in.

Everyone's heard the story of how she wrote the first Harry Potter as an unemployed single mom toiling away with ink-stained fingers in a coffee shop, rocking her baby's stroller with a foot while conjuring her story about an orphan who discovers on his 11th birthday that he's a wizard.

A little less known is how she got the idea in the first place. Before the coffee shop, even before the baby, JK Rowling was riding the train when the first seeds of the story came to her. It was a four-hour train ride, and she didn't have so much as a pencil on her to write anything down. For me, that would have been the end of the story, but she says it was a godsend. She was forced to plan out all the major plot points of the entire story arc in her head.

Tomorrow I will be stuck on a plane or in an airport for 7 1/2 hours. One of the workshops at the retreat will be on how to write a synopsis, a skill for which I have absolutely no talent. In order to prepare for that much needed class, I plan on using all that time to finish plotting out my current WIP so I'll have the raw material from which to create a masterful and agent-enticing synopsis. And that's where any similarities between me and JK Rowling end.

Besides the obvious differences, I am planning on carrying ample writing periphrenalia with me--as much as I can fit into a carry-on bag. Other women may travel with makeup, lotions, and tissues. I'll have pens, pencils, and paper. And maybe some tissues. I will probably cry, possibly several times, during this process. After all, I was the girl who always outlined my high school essays AFTER I'd written them because I just couldn't seem to manage it the other way around.

So, my plan is that when I finally land in Boston at 1 PM eastern time, I will have a preliminary outline of my novel.

Wish me luck on both accounts!


Wednesday, September 9, 2009


In honor of the date, I'd like to share 9 random thoughts about writing that have come to me recently.

1. All showing and no telling is as bad as all telling and no showing. The best writers have discovered how to find the right amount of each for the story they are telling. I am not one of them.

2. I used to be terrified before my critique groups met because I was afraid of what they were going to say about my work. I am now terrified before my critique groups meet because I'm afraid of what I am going to say about theirs. Am I being too critical? Could something I say destroy someone's writing dream. Yes, it's all about me.

3. That doesn't mean that my crit group doesn't have the power to make me cry. Or rant. Or both. But once I'm over the initial gut reaction, I love them for their honesty. I'd rather hear about the warts from them than not hear about the problems from agents and editors.

4. Mysteries may have a "formula" but that doesn’t make them easy to write.

5. Sometimes ideas do come to me while I'm playing spider solitaire, reading email, surfing the web. And a few of those are even pretty good. Sometimes the work has to percolate a bit before the problems can be ironed out.

6. I can't see the flaws in my own work. This is nothing new. It just amazes me that no matter how much I study, how hard I work to improve my craft, this one thing remains constant, steadfastly refusing to budge. Of course this is why I need to make sure I don't alienate the people in my crit groups! I need them!

7. No matter how much I think I've gotten a character figured out, he or she still has the power to surprise me. When does a character finally gel? After the first draft? The tenth? Or is it just me—can I only write chameleons?

8. I used to consider myself pretty tech savvy. Now, I feel like technology has left me in the dust. As Denis Leary puts it in the Hulu commercials, it all "bliggety blogs, facey-spaces, and tweety pages." I know an internet presence is necessary for a writer. But how much is enough?

9. I really like being part of a community of writers—I could discuss writing for hours and never get bored.

Right now I'm supposed to be packing for a visit to my daughter followed by a writing retreat in CT. I'm ecstatic about both! But I've wasted several hours because I can't decide what writing books I'll want (all the while knowing I probably won't have time to look at any of them!). So, no more procrastinating.

In the meantime, I'd love it if you shared 9 things about writing and the writing life!

Happy 9 Day!


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Organized confusion?

I read with great admiration Mahala’s work at organizing her writing research, back-ups, notes, and blurbs. I looked at my documents ad infinitum and, taking incentive from Mahala, threw out the contents of two 3-inch ring binders. Some of those pages dated back to year 2000. Ergo, useless. I felt refreshed, in control . . . organized!

Then I looked into my office closet and realized I still can’t take more than two steps in before I’m blocked. Boxes holding reams of paper stacked one atop the other and on top of those lie, in perfect horizontal filing posture, more pages of research, newspaper clippings, notes, and blurbs. The reason I can’t file away any of those documents is because I have picture frames leaning against the drawers of one of my lateral file cabinets. (Ha!)

I prefer to think we writers must necessarily be somewhat messy in our physical lives since our minds are always off somewhere—re-writing a scene, polishing dialogue, re-naming our protagonist because we spotted our pitch-perfect name in another story. Yesterday I spotted the title to one of my works-in-progress listed under another author’s accomplishments. You know what that means . . . not only changing my title but also changing some dialogue. Sigh.

I’m willing to accept that the most current reason I’m forever foraging for my keys, my cell phone, and my coffee cup is because I’m thinking about the Seascape Writers Retreat. On Sept. 18, I’ll be honing my writing skills in Connecticut with seventeen other mystery writers (including fellow Lyrical Pen Tracy).

I expect to get some honest, blunt feedback but hoping for at least one atta-girl. I sure don’t want to hear my baby is ugly, but I’m determined to listen. It’s the only way to make the story better.

I, and I’m sure Tracy, will share more about our experience later.


Oh, if you’re in the market for some writing software, you might check out the reference below. It doesn’t seem too expensive. I don’t personally own it (I'm not that organized), but it did get some endorsements from other writers.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Novel Experience

It's so nice to see sunshine. It's been storming for over a week and my poor Cavalier, Hannah, has alternated between a state of panic and confusion after her medication to stop the panic. Today her eyes look normal, and she is her usual self, begging for food every other minute.

Yesterday, I was so stoked when the sun glazed me in perspiration as I headed out to run errands, I took a swing by the library and did some research for my new novel. I'm trying to firm up the time period, and what better way to do that than research fashion, accessories, and makeup for the time. Sounds trite as I type it, but it made perfect sense to me yesterday. It took three trips from my car to get all the books I found into my house. I have a tendency to go overboard when doing research; however, I feel smarter and more writerly {is their such a word?} just staring at them stacked high on my desk. I found great information on churches, schools, etc. and just couldn't avoid piling them in my basket.

A couple of good things did come out of the rainy weather. Since I couldn't use the computer, stove {a nice bonus,} television, etc., I sat at an eight foot table I've stationed in my dining room and began to wade through all my notes and critique feedback on my current novel - those from different groups of writing friends that I hadn't input yet and whittled down the three foot stack to two nine inch stacks. By the end I was sipping on a glass of peppermint schnapps and wondering why in the world I thought I could write a novel. Short stories, personal essays, magazine articles - yes I had done all that, but a real, honest-to-goodness full length novel. Who did I think I was? A couple of more sips of the ice cold brew {I keep the bottle in the freezer by the way} and new ideas started to pop out all over the place, and I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that MY novel will be Faulknerian in its Southern greatness.

Although I didn't get much sleep last night because my mind was unbridled in its enthusiasm to write and re-write scenes and to find places where more narrative summary would work, and on and on, and although my only inebriation today is from the communion wine, I'm thinking with a tad more logical resolve. I have a lot of work to do and am really excited to make the revisions I envision and study the notes from writing peers and take this baby on home. "They" say editing is easier than writing cold. I'm about to find out if "they" know what they're talking about.

I have a feeling Lily Tomlin was right when she said: Things are going to get a lot worse before they get worse.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Don't Be Afraid

Writing/critique groups are immensely helpful. I've been critiquing with one group of writers for four years and what a joy it has been to see each other get published and realize that each of us had a little bit, or a lot, depending on how you look at it to do with that success. During that time, I've also met with other groups, submitted manuscripts for evaluation at conferences, etc., and every time, whether I agreed totally with the critique or not, I have found them to be helpful. Sometimes, it just gets me thinking - how did the reader see it, what could I have done differently to lead them where I wanted them to go?

I was terrified in my first critique. My years of professional experience in management, which often included speaking to hundreds of people in workshops, went right down the tubes. I will never forget sitting in the Barnes & Noble cafe in Destin, Florida, feeling like I was five years old and attending my first day of kindergarten and knowing beyond any doubt that my parents' expectations of me were never going to be met. Thank God, I hadn't eaten before coming and was just sipping on Coke, or I might have lost my cookies right there in front of all those people I was trying to impress.

I quickly learned when the lady across from me was dripping water and trying to pretend it was a hot flash - at twenty-something? - I don't think so, that she was as nervous as I was. We were saved when the show-off at the table decided to read hers first. It was horrible, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Talk about flight of ideas. We had been given instructions before hand, and I drew heavily from the "say something positive first" side of the handout. There was no plot, so I couldn't go there. There was no setting, so I couldn't go there. I did what we all do from time to time. "Interesting idea. Interesting characters. I liked the way so & so responded to so & so." And in that moment I realized, every piece has some redeeming value. Sometimes you have to plunge to the depths to find it, but it's there somewhere. I would like to tell you my short story got rave reviews, but alas it didn't. It did, however, have a plot, and the other writers at the table did find it, so I felt pure success. {It doesn't take much to push me along.}

There are on-line groups, local and national writing organization groups, library groups that have critique groups, so go on-line and you're bound to tumble into something. It may take a few tries to get the group that fits your needs the best, but the value-in-return is worth every painstaking moment you search. {Hope you like the word group.}

A little vinegar with the honey never hurt anyone, and it makes a great salad dressing.


Thursday, August 6, 2009


I was going to write this Monday, but I got sidetracked . . .

I have developed the art of procrastination into an art form. (Ask anyone who knows me).

I can look like I'm working on something, to the point that casual onlookers could testify in court that I was on task and not fear charges of perjury, and yet not actually get anything done.

I can spend hours with the appearance of someone deep, deep at work, right down to sweat-tinged brow and bloodshot eyes and be no closer to completion than when I started.

I can click between my current WNIP (work-not-in-progress) and Spider solitaire so fast that it can't be registered by the human eye, in case someone is checking up on me.

It's a gift and a curse. On the one hand, I can sometimes wheedle out of doing dishes or going grocery shopping because I am "writing."

On the other hand, I can pinch a deadline so tight it bites me back. Take this past weekend for example. I spent three days in writing hell. And I have no one to blame but (mostly) myself.

August 1st was D-day for me, as in several writing Deadlines were due.

I had three novel scenes to submit for a mystery writing retreat that I'm attending in September with CJ: the opening scene, a scene that introduces a main character, and another complete scene from my WIP. Since this is a new project, I had to start from scratch.

August 1st was also the deadline to submit to the anthology Christmas is a Season! 2009 (Linda Busby Parker's Excalibur Press). I had been working on a story but had set it aside to do the retreat pieces.

Let me interrupt myself here to say that the way I deal with stress when something has to be done is to do . . . nothing. And the corollary is also true: the more that needs to be done the less I do. Again, this is true—ask anyone who knows me. These deadlines had me in total paralysis.

That's not to say I didn't look like I was working. But let me illustrate my "Writing Process":

I sit facing a blank Word doc, and contemplating what to write for the scene sample for the Seascape retreat. After a couple of games of Spider, I type:

Aggie did not feel welcome.

Why not, I wonder? I play a game of Spider. I realize she doesn't feel welcome because of the doormat. It's not a welcoming doormat. So? What kind of doormat is unwelcoming. Play two games of Spider because I win the first one. Launch Internet Explore, do a Google search, and spend an hour looking at different types of doormats until I find one that will work. Game of Spider, followed by a 30 minute false start with a bronze doormat with filigree around the borders, which I ultimately discard because it's actually kind of pretty. Spider. Google. Finally settle on one of those bristly kinds. Type this:

Aggie did not feel welcome. The doormat at her feet looked like it was made from the backsides of

Of what? A bristly animal. Spider. Google "bristly animals". Spider. Type:

Aggie did not feel welcome. The doormat at her feet looked like it was made from the backsides of feral boars. And instead of "Welcome," "DOBBS" was printed in thick block letters.

Okay for a rough draft, but not quite enough oomph and that last sentence still needs work. Spider. Revise. Rewrite:

Aggie did not feel welcome. She looked from the welcome mat that looked like it was made from the backsides of feral boars to the brass gargoyle doorknocker

So, thinks I, what might a gargoyle doorknocker look like? Spider. Google doorknockers. Spider. Revise:

Aggie did not feel welcome. She looked from the welcome mat that looked like it was made from the backsides of feral boars to the brass gargoyle doorknocker the leered at her with chilling blank eyes. Not welcome at all.

So, after four hours of working, I have 40 words, which averages out to about 6 minutes per word. And that only includes the time I was "actively" working and not the time spent skimming my writing books for clues on how to write a scene, looking at opening scenes in 8 or 10 novels on my book shelf, and the other 40 games of Spider that I played while "in deep writerly thought."

And, now that I look at it, if I had had more time, I'd revise it again to:

Aggie did not feel welcome. She looked from the welcome mat made from the backside of a feral boar to the brass gargoyle doorknocker leering at her with chilling blank eyes. Not welcome at all.

See? Now it's down to 35 much crisper words.

And that's the real problem with being a procrastinator. As the deadline approached, I no longer had the luxury of 8 minutes per word. As it was, I wrote for 3 days solid without bathing, and barely breaking for bathroom pit stops and to refill my coffee mug.

I finally uploaded the Seascape Retreat files at 3:30 in the afternoon on Aug 1st. And "finished" and emailed my story for the Christmas anthology at 2:30 in the morning (I know, technically it was Aug 2, but I crossed my fingers that Linda would still accept the submission. And, because she's so gracious, she did!)

The downside, besides nearly killing myself and going blind, is that I didn't get to run any of these past my crit group. The pieces went out into the world raw and wild. While on the one hand, the attendees at Seascape may feel they got their money's worth after slicing and dicing my ms pages, it's embarrassing to know you've sent out work that isn't your best polished words. On the other hand, there's a good chance my story won't make it into the anthology because it needs too much editing. Why would an editor take something that isn't polished when she has stacks
of manuscripts that are nearly publishable as they stand?

So, I'd tell you that I will never procrastinate again, but chances are you'll see another blog post just like this one some time in the future. Just ask anyone who knows me.


(PS. I think this one is full, but for future reference, CJ and I are attending the Seascape Writing Retreat in Madison, CT. It's a mystery/crime writers' retreat hosted by authors Roberta Isleib, SW Hubbard, and Hallie Ephron held at a house that was originally owned by Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas. Cool!.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Old Habits Die Hard

School is upon us, Christmas crafts are in the works, fall writing beckons, but old habits die hard. The rules that school begins and white shoes are worn until after Labor Day, Christmas starts in December, and nothing serious crosses our minds till early September is a hard one for me to abandon. School for my granddaughter starts August 10. It's still 95-100 degrees every day in Mobile! Who wants to wear an impermeable burgundy jumper and layers of clothes, especially shoes in 100 degree weather? You can bet the minute she hits the car every day for at least a month, her shoes will be off and her bare feet dangling in front of the ac vent. And concentrating will be difficult for both of us, but it's a must that I face the focus fairy (how's that for alliteration?) along with her. I promised myself that on her first day of school, the serious edit and revision process of my novel would begin, so next Monday at 7 am, I'll sort the stacks of critique feedback, pull out my notes from all my conferences and classes last year, and get serious. Luckily, I can work barefooted.

If you are a cozy mystery fan, check out Charles Finch's "A Beautiful Blue Death." I have read and loved every one of Anne Perry, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Agatha Christie's mysteries, and Finch is on target managing to bring all three of them alive in his new book series. His style is more classic, almost literary, and I found his characters, settings, and narrative summaries came alive. Hope you enjoy them.

By the way, Tracy has made it easier for you to join our friends group and post comments, so get those cards and letters, well you get the idea..........

Consider a writing group. It's a great way to get feedback and make new friends. Mahala

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Novel Idea

A good friend of Lyrical Pens is Linda Busby-Parker, the noted author of Seven Laurels, an insightful novel about the human condition. Linda is also the owner and editor of Excalibur Press which is still actively selling Christmas is a Season! 2008, a testimony to the excellence of the personal essays and fictional stories contained in it. The deadline for submissions to Christmas is a Season! 2009 is upon us -August 1 -as mentioned by CJ a few posts ago. If the submissions are anything akin to the first ones, this will be another excellent book, so be sure and watch for it. I am the assistant editor for the book and anxious to get started reading the manuscripts we've been receiving. What a rewarding job. Last year's submissions were from across the country, and they were all so different from a child's story of seeking Santa Claus to a personal view of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

A supporter of new writers, Linda has a new addition on her blog called the novel gallery and will consider your submissions, including works in progress. This is an excellent opportunity for you to get your work out to the masses and get feedback on it. Check out her blog at

Thanks to CJ for announcing my wins in the Alabama Conclave contest. I was really stoked! This was an important contest for me since both items I entered are chapters from my new book. My book is set in a small Southern town in the late 1950s when a lot of change is on the horizon from the post WWII environment in America to civil rights and the autonomy of women. And, of course, it is filled with plenty of humorous stories.

Are you old enough to remember those wonderful Burma Shave signs on little boards by the road or girdles? If not enjoy this anyway. Substitutes Are like a girdle They find some jobs
They just Can't hurdle.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

keeping on

Sorry to have been out of the loop for a while. Family illness, a drive from Mobile to Michigan, and then an unexpected death in another part of the family have taken their toll on my creativity. My energy has been re-directed to getting through the crises. It's always darkest before the dawn according to some famous someone, so I'm looking forward to those first few golden rays that streak across the blue velvet sky.

I have taken refuge recently in attacking the last few scenes I need to complete my short story for Linda Busby Parker's Christmas anthology. The story has a maximum word limit of 5,000 words, and I'm hopeful I can pull it together before the August 1 deadline.

To me, a short story is like a haiku--a formula plus semantics equals paucity of words. Major hurdle for a long-winded novelist. Even if I can't finish, I plan to enjoy the challenge.

On a brighter note, I want to throw out an atta-girl for fellow Lyrical Pen Mahala who had some success recently. Check out At the Alabama Conclave she was one of four winners for the Humor section with Peas and More Peas, and she earned an honorable mention for the 1st chapter of her novel A Few Degrees Off Center. Way to go, Mahala!

Keep On Keeping On, folks. I will.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Good News Bad News

These are the words that greeted me in an e-mail Monday from the Tom Howard contest. My story had made it through the long list to the short list to the shorter list and then got commendable status. As writers we should be used to these types of contest responses, but it's never easy is it? We reveal ourselves on paper and then send it out for the world to see, knowing in our hearts that it's one of the best things ever written. Then the rejection letter comes. Making it to commendable status in the huge Tom Howard contest should be enough to make me dance in a field of daisies, but it was still a let-down.

For the past two days, I've been dredging my brain after reading and re-reading the story. What should I have done differently-a different word, less adjectives {my nemesis,} a typo? Was the reviewer having a bad day when (s)he shifted my ms to the commendable pile instead of the "still under review" pile? Does (s)he dislike peas? {My story is a humorous look at a pea sheller in the fifties.} Why oh why oh why? I am amazingly good at pity-parties.

Now I'm back on an even keel and planning to submit a new story to the contest in the fall. I'll show them. I'll write the best short story ever penned. I'll win a Pulitzer. I'll climb a mountain. You get the idea.

Check out the contest rules and send in an entry. The first prize is $3,000 - no small potatoes! And best of luck, but then if you win, I won't. Maybe I need to rethink this.

Remember: A blind hog can find an acorn once in a while. Mahala

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hurry Up and Relax

The calendar hanging by my desk tells me to "hurry up and relax" as the snow white beach goer in the picture checks her watch once again. Why do we do that to ourselves? We pack the beach books, the cold drinks, the grapes and cheese or sandwiches or whatever we always take to the beach, towels, suntan lotion, etc. and head off to relax with the sounds of waves lapping or breaking depending on where you live, and then so many of us don't allow ourselves to settle down and rest. We should leave the cell phone in the car or better yet take it with us in case of an emergency. Put it in a plastic bag to keep out the sand but turn it off! We need to give ourselves a chance. By the way, don't forget the chocolate - yes, that's right - chocolate. Nothing better than a cold Milky Way at the beach to regenerate your energy. {I'm shameless.} It will help you to meditate for at least as long as the mini-bite lasts.

I had the privilege of living on the island of Kaua`i in Hawai`i for 12 years before I moved to Mobile, and tourists {I was a kama`aina (local) you see} never failed to amaze me when I planted myself on the beach for Saturday afternoons. Rental cars would come speeding up, two or more lily-white tourists would pour out, make a mad dash for the water, tossing flip-flops {or slippers as they are known in Hawai`i} on the beach with their towels, and fight the waves, which on a normal day are three-four feet, to get wet, splash each other a few times, then grab their towels, hurry to their car, and dash off to enjoy the next Hawai`ian attraction. Obviously they had missed the whole Hawai`ian experience. They had cheated themselves of the sights and sounds of those mystical Hawai`ian waters full of magnificent fish, whales, turtles. They had missed the sound of the lulling waters crashing against the sand. They had missed the overwhelmingly gorgeous reds and yellows of the sunrises and sunsets, the whales and dolphins and monk seals. I wanted to run to their cars and tell them to slow down, forget seeing every little or big thing on every island, savor the moment, inhale deeply and absorb the true experience, but they would have probably called 911 to lock up the crazy lady.

The whole point of this story, while it looks obvious, probably isn't. To experience the writing life at its best, we have to sit a while, dream a while, drift and actually think a while - pick your spot, the beach, the backyard, the library - stare off in the distance, listen to the sounds, smell the sea, the flowers, the leather. I personally love that wonderful inner peace when I'm lying at the warm beach or reclining in the backyard, the stillness as my mind drifts, children's voices in the distance, birds chatting, the smell of fresh cut grass or the salty sea. Some of my best insights come in those times - that character analysis I've been trying to capture, that plot point I've been struggling to find. The answers often bubble from an inner spring of creativity and always surprise me with their simplicity.

It helps to remember that sometimes life is jaded by the glare of the yellow brick road. Mahala

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summer Reading

Summer is a great time to catch up on some of the reading we've been "meaning to do." You know, that book on the how-to's of writing, editing, publishing, whatever your interest is. It's also a great time to sit down at the computer with a huge glass of iced tea spiked with lemon or mint or a blend with mango or blackberry or peach, shut your door (if you're lucky enough to have one between your and the rest of the world,) and track down ideas for writing magazine articles or entering contests. There are a slew of them. Check out Hope Clark's web site, which is loaded with wonderful ideas for the new and experienced writer.

I've decided to try writing for magazines again with the encouragement of her recent post with an informative and short article by Janet Hartman. I've had a few pieces published in magazines before, but I would like to amp up my participation (read that as increase my income) and add a few more lines to my bio. She gave me a whole new twist on the market and what I could sell. I tend to write regional Southern, historical, and humorous pieces in addition to health articles, so I'm going to put a new spin on a few things and get them back out there. Like the note on my desks says: "I believe there are three answers to prayer: yes, no, and do this instead."

Hope you had a wonderful/exciting 4th. It's my birthday and although I try to ignore it, my family steadfastly refuses to honor that idea. My daughter gave me a mint chocolate ice-cream cake which was worth every calorie!



Saturday, June 27, 2009

Another Party Heard From

I'm the third member of the Lyrical Pens, and like CJ somewhat new to the world of blogs. I'm told the world is hanging by a thread to find out what I ate for breakfast and how many days I've procrastinated about cleaning out my flowerbed. I'll call that last sentence foreshadowing and keep you in the dark a little longer. One thing you'll notice as I write, I'm a big fan of descriptive adjective and adverbs, often over the complaints of my critique groups.

I am a voracious reader, mysteries - both new-age (Patricia Cornwell and Janet Evanovich) and pre-twenty first century (Anne Perry, Jeanne M. Dams, and Jacqueline Winspar.) I truly like cozy mysteries. They make the reader think for a change and yet they don't get mired down in the unbelievable violence of so many of today's books. My second major reading interest is in character driven plots (Sue Monk Kidd and Pat Conroy.) I think the study of human nature and familial interactions are too, too amazing. Real life is the true drama or "where it's at" as the kids say. I absolutely adore subtle humor intertwined with the story.

I fell in love with books sitting on my mother's lap while she read poetry and fairy tales. By the age of ten, I was driving the librarians crazy in the small Georgia town where I grew up because I had read every biography and mystery for my age group and kept wandering into the adult sections. Finally, with my mother's permission, the librarian would help me pick out books that "didn't reveal too much." My mother's favorite book was Gone With the Wind from which she often read excerpts to me, so I was weaned on character driven plots blended with humor, tragedy, and adventure.

After highschool, I got busy with life and went to nursing school while I still wrote copiously in too-many-to-count composition books for twenty years. I was in healthcare management for those same twenty years and at work, I wrote manuals, procedures, bylaws, etc. I started my own writing and editing company during those years (and still do some) helping businesses and other healthcare businesses with their documents. I tend to be very organized, so that was a bonus in the business world. {If you saw my office right now, you would fall over laughing.}

In 2001, I retired and got serious about writing fiction and personal essays, but guess what I did first? I spent many, many, many (love those adjectives) hours reading through all those stacks of composition books, studying my plot ideas, my characters, my settings. It was all there, albeit a bit messy, and I started to write, using all that valuable material as the foundation for my stories. Several of my personal essays sold, which was gratifying. My first serious critique group looked over a number of the short stories and told me I had a novel in progress. Imagine my surprise! I'd been writing a novel and didn't know it! I've just finished it, after a lot of study on the craft of writing - books and classes and DVDs, and now I am a stack of compostion books short now that it's all in the computer and in a contiguous story format. And guess what? It is full of character studies, humor, and suspense. Who knew?

While I'm doing the first of, no doubt, many major revisions to the manuscript, I'm wading back through stacks of notes and ideas {I have a file cabinet full} to decide what novel I want to write next. I love ghost stories, so who knows....?

As for my flowerbeds, it's too hot in Mobile to work outside right now, unless you do what a friend of mine does. She puts boxes of frozen corn or peas or whatever's in the freezer in her bra and heads outside to thaw them while she gardens. I just don't see myself digging in the dirt with frozen veggies stuck in my undies, so the garden is on hold till the spring. Oh, I didn't eat breakfast this morning.
Open a Book and Discover the Possibilities!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Hinges of Hades

Tracy here.

When the local weather people issue a heat advisory warning in Mobile, you know it's hot! Yesterday, my outdoor thermometer read 104.1°--in the shade. With the heat index (think hot AND humid!), we're running about 110-115° in these parts. And, yes, as a Yankee* who grew up in the Green Mountains of Vermont, I ALWAYS complain about the heat. But there is a writing connection to this latest bout of grumbling.

During this heat wave, with my flipflops melted onto the pavement, my hair frizzed like Little Orphan Annie's, and sweat pooled around my feet (and I'm talking inside with the AC blasting), I'm trying to imagine snowmen and mittens and ice skating on the pond while I come up with a Christmas story submission for Excalibur's anthology (see cj's post below for more info). Instead, I keep having visions of Santa, eyebrows singed and his red suit smudged with the ashes, in this case not from a chimney but from the flames of the Inferno of the Damned. Actually, the story's shaping up into a great horror tale, but the anthology is not called Halloween is a Season! 2009.

Even cranked down to Ice Age temperatures, my old decrepit AC system is barely managing to cool the house off to the mid 80s. (But I LOVE you AC—please don't break down on me now!)

So, for now, I'm going to work on my current WIP, a mystery I call FM. My old WIP, the still-unfinished-after-so-many-years Young Adult novel PI is still close by. I jot down a note or 2 every now and then. But I'm hoping that the structure of a genre novel will help me actually complete an entire novel. Then, with that confidence tucked in my pocket, I can go back and finish the YA book that keeps getting away from me. (I have written at least 10 different ways to get my protag from his home to the island where the actual story takes place, but then I can't seem to figure out exactly what to do with him. Or more likely, there are too many things I'm trying to incorporate and can't seem to manage writing any of them.)

Can you work on more than one project at a time?
I didn't think I could, but I'm going to try.

My writing goals for this week: write 15 new pages on the mystery WIP and figure out which of the 5 Christmas stories floating in my head to write.

Good writing!


*We New Englanders don't like to refer to ourselves as Yankees, but not for the reason some may think. As Red Sox fans, we are loathe to associate ourselves in any way with that team in the Big Apple who stole the Babe (and Johnny Damon).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Toe in the water so to speak

c j sez:

Okay, I'm officially blogging -- new concept for me, sharing conversations with the wunderkin of writing. And if you're on this site, you MUST be a wunderkin of writing. Introductions are in order. My particulars are: c j petterson, live in Mobile, raised two sons, enjoying three grandchildren, been single for more years than I was married, and on Aug 25, am one year post-heart surgery . . . which was a real surprise because I didn't know I had a problem heart. I worked out, ate "moderately well," and worked in my two-acre yard. Stay alert out there, ladies.

On the writing side of my personal info, I didn't get quasi-serious about writing until 2003, and I've enjoyed a bit of success recently. Three of my short/short personal essays were published in anthologies in 2008 ("Cup of Comfort for Divorced Women," "Christmas Through a Child's Eyes," and "Christmas is a Season, 2008").

I'm now re-energized to get back at a real writing schedule. Fellow Penster Tracy Hurley and I are scheduled to attend a writing retreat in Connecticut in late September, the facilitators are published authors S. W. Hubbard, Roberta Isleib, and Hallie Ephron--fellow Sisters in Crime members. The really good thing about the Seascape Retreat is that I now have to set a working schedule in order to meet the deadlines for critique pages. Sigh.

I have several works-in-progress, but the one I'll be using for the September retreat is something called "Deadly Star" (action/adventure, woman-in-peril stuff). It's in its third revision, and I think/hope it's going well. I have two other W-I-P pieces, one short story to be submitted before July 30 to Excalibur Press for consideration in "Christmas is a Season, 2009." (IF you’ve got a story you’d like to have considered, Excalibur’s website is under construction, but Linda Busby Parker is the contact and her blog site with instructions is:

The other piece in my mind is a young adult story—no working title yet and only about a thousand words into the storyline. The teenaged protagonist is one Erik Matheson with an unusual problem.

I’ll keep you updated as I progress because I’m jazzed about learning a new genre.

That’s all for now, folks. I’ll just keep on keeping on, and you do the same.

c j